Socialist Worker

Unison special local government conference fails to support fight on pensions

by Nick Ruff, Kirklees Unison branch chair (pc)
Issue No. 2041

A special conference to discuss the government's new pension scheme met on Tuesday of this week. After 90 minutes of contributions the conference voted to accept the government's proposals by a sizeable majority. All the regions voted for acceptance, except Yorkshire and Humberside and Greater London.

To understand why, a number of things have to be looked at.

When the bureaucracy called off the strike action in 2006, it seriously undermined the confidence of activists who had made the 28 March a massive success. That strike had led to 49,000 new members joining Unison.

The strategy to then concentrate the campaign around a legal challenge to the abolition of the retirement 'rule of 85' led to further demoralisation. The legal challenge was lost and this left the union with no strategy at all, while the employers were on the attack.

It was the initiative from Kirklees to call a special conference, which forced the union to call a lobby of parliament in November 2006 and to publicly attack the proposals. It was an unprecedented achievement that Kirklees got the support of 93 branches, representing 37 percent of the membership.

Unfortunately the momentum of the Kirklees initiative could not be maintained. The bureaucracy went into overdrive, and suddenly the government's proposals were being described as ground breaking and of massive benefits to our members.

On the Unison website a ready reckoner was set up for people to see the benefits of the new scheme would be. It failed to take into account the increased contributions that would make it detrimental, especially for manual workers and part timers.

The bureaucracy were able to sell the deal – even though they never had the bottle to recommend it – by relying on the demoralisation of the activists who delivered the action on 28 March.

The debate was centred on two composite motions. The first, submitted by the Service Group Executive, North Yorkshire Branch, South East Region and the FE and colleges group, argued that the proposals were better than was expected two years ago, that it met the majority of the unions objectives and should be put to a consultative ballot of the members for them to accept or not.

The second composite submitted by Kirklees Branch, the Greater London Region, Wolverhampton Branch, Newham Branch, London Fire Authority Branch, Waltham Forest Branch and Bromley Branch argued that the proposals were unacceptable and that the union should ballot immediately for substantial and sustained industrial action.

The arguments to reject the proposals and to resume strike action clearly won the debate but unfortunately lost the vote. The matter had been resolved before the conference had started.

One lesson to be learned has to be that the left have to organise better in the regions. The Kirklees initiative reached parts of the union around a mood to fight not seen before. This has to be built upon.

Most importantly of all though is the loyalty of our leaders to Labour and the distain for our members' jobs, pay and conditions should not be forgotten or underestimated. This can particularly be seen in how Unison would like to see a peaceful succession to power of Gordon Brown.

We must ensure the election of left candidates in the forthcoming NEC elections.

We must push the case for John McDonnell as leader of the Labour Party to expose the leadership support for Gordon Brown.

The battles ahead to resist single status, save the NHS, the pay claim and against cuts mean that we have to organise stronger than ever.

And do not forget we still have to campaign against the pensions deal when it goes out to the members in the ballot.

The conference, attended by delegates from England and Wales was called by the Local Government Service Group.

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Article information

Sat 10 Mar 2007, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2041
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